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Know Your Tropical Roots

On the outside, the quartet of local root vegetables (sweet potato, taro, cassava, jicama) can look stodgily unexciting. They might be all locally grown, but how much variety can you really create from a solid mass of starch?

Plenty, it turns out. 

In her latest workshop, Taste of the Top End’s Emma Lupin is lifting the humble tropical root vegie out of the ground and onto the modern palate. Local roots can all be turned into salads, dips, curries and desserts – not to mention mash.

“People will learn great recipes in-volving four focus roots and then get some tips and even cuttings, on how to grow them,” Lupin enthuses.

Sweet potato “really goes off” in the Wet season, with plentiful supplies in the markets and home gardens she says, and all roots can be eaten in sweet dishes as well as savoury.

Taro is a key ingredient in many cultures, especially the Pacific Islands, and Lupin hopes to introduce more Darwin cooks and gardeners to its culinary uses, starting with a popular savoury Pacific Island dish, which she will teach at the workshop.

“Taro is more of a water-loving root and the staple of the Pacific Islands, but it does need a bit more work because it has some oxalic acids so it needs to be double boiled. You can make quite a lot of desserts with taro but also put it into curries and make savoury dishes, particularly with coconut milk,” she explains.

“You can use the leaves of all the roots that we’re going to look at or use the fresh tips raw in salad.”

Cooked taro leaves can be added to coconut milk and onion for a spicy side, while cassava can be prepared as a potato-salad-type dish or “a delicious mash,” and even made into gnocchi, says Lupin.

“You can make them into stodgy dishes but you can also make them into light and healthy dishes.”

In the event of a cyclone, tropical roots could also be the key to survival.

“They’re really great crops for a cyclone,” Lupin says, “because the leaves might be battered but you’ve still got the roots under the ground, unlike tree fruits or other vegeta-bles…It’s a cyclone kit!”

Sun 12 Nov | 2-6pm | Alawa Primary School

See the event listing. 

Images by Emma Lupin

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